STRATEGIES TO INCREASE THE EFFICIENCY OF THE LEARNING PROCESS IN HIGHLY PRACTICAL SUBJECTS WITH A HIGH NUMBER OF STUDENTS: "IN VITRO" CULTURE IN BIOTECHNOLOGY DEGREES AS A MODEL CASE
"In vitro" culture in plants involves a plethora of biotechnological techniques, which include, among others: i) production of virus-free stock plants, ii) micropropagation, iii) development of haploid plants, iv) embryo rescue from interspecific crosses, v) selection of mutants, and vi) genetic transformation. For a suitable learning process of these abilities, students are required to acquire both theoretical and, particularly, practical knowledge. In addition, student work is one of the key points in the adaptation of education activities to the European Space for Higher Education. Thus, academic staff should innovate in order to facilitate and evaluate self-learning processes. In this respect, practical sessions must be planned in order to allow students initiating a process that has to be monitored by themselves during several weeks until the end of experiment. In addition, practical lessons must encompass as many theoretical items as possible. However, carrying out an accurate protocol of practice lessons in this subject is highly difficult because of the wide theoretical syllabus. Having a high number of students in the courses is an additional difficulty. This requires an adequate infrastructure, educational tools, and an accurate planning of "in vivo" growing material. In this work two different approaches for practical sessions have been compared in the 2007/08 and 2008/09 academic years in the subject “In vitro culture” of the Biotechnology degree at the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia (UPV). In the academic year 2007/08 a total of 72 students were divided into three large groups of practical sessions (24 students each), they were provided with an outline of the corresponding session at the beginning of every session including a questionnaire which they were asked to accomplish and to give to lecturers for revision, and lab sessions were 2h/week. On the other hand, in academic year 2008/09 a total of 90 students were divided into seven smaller groups (12-13 students each), which were provided with a book containing all the practical sessions, and practices were divided into 1h of lab session and 1 h of homework questions. Advantages and disadvantages were found in both approaches, and they were evaluated not only from the point of view of lecturers, but also by taking into account the students´ opinions in anonymous polls carried out at the end of the semester. The main conclusion was that the learning process was more efficient in approach used in 2008/09, although it was more time-consuming for lecturers. Furthermore, students preferred this approach as it provides them a better understanding of the applications of in vitro culture. Students also appreciate very much the integration between theoretical and applied topics of our practical lessons. They also found highly motivating the interaction with lecturers.